Editor’s Note: The event was hosted by SESAC this year and held in the CMA event space. This was the first year the annual awards event was hosted by SESAC. SESAC’s Kelli Turner, Dennis Lord, with the Creative Services team, are featured on this year’s MusicRow Awards print issue which was distributed to the attending guests at the event.
BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
It was “Ladies’ Night Out” at this year’s MusicRow awards.
Women were the biggest winners at the honors, staged on Wednesday (June 28) in the new SESAC/CMA event space. Lauren Alaina, Maren Morris, Jesse Lee and Hillary Lindsey all won. All of them are also songwriters.
The event began with greetings from our host, SESAC’s Shannan Hatch. She introduced MusicRow’s Sherod Robertson.
“Many times, these are the first awards these people receive,” said Sherod. “And they are also early predictors of future awards.”
Eric T. Parker began the ceremony by presenting the annual All-Star Musician Awards. Justin Niebank (engineer), Ilya Toshinskiy (guitar), Jimmie Lee Sloas (bass), Charles Judge (keyboards), Aubrie Haynie (fiddle), Russell Terrell (vocals), Greg Morrow and Fred Eltringham (a tie for drums) and Dan Dugmore, Paul Franklin and Russ Pahl (a three-way tie for steel supremacy).
This year’s first-time musician winners are Terrell and Eltringham. Accepting in person and offering well-spoken thanks were Ilya Toshinskiy, Russell Terrell, Jimmie Lee Sloas and Charles Judge.
“I’ve been doing this for 22 years, so this is pretty sweet,” said session singer Russell Terrell. Toshinskiy accepted warmly with one young child in his arms and another by his side. Judge recognized the musician honors with thanks. Sloas was wry, witty, grateful and endearing.
Robertson announced Jay Joyce as Producer of the Year. Melissa Spillman, of Joyce’s Neon Cross publishing company, accepted.
“He’s honored to be among these wonderful creators,” said Melissa. “And he thanks the creative community. Without them, he would be a weirdo in a black hoodie in East Nashville.”
The Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year winner was Jesse Lee. The co-writer of “Peter Pan” was cheered at the event by her family. She sent in video greetings from a recording studio in Europe, saying, “I moved to Nashville 15 years ago….I have 15 years of people to thank for this….So it’s nice on days like today.
“Thanks to SESAC [she is an affiliate] for hosting this. I’m having a great time in Copenhagen.”
The Breakthrough Artist-Writer of the Year was Lauren Alaina. This was the first time that MR has had this category.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Lauren said. “When I was 11 years old, I made my parents bring me to Music Row, where I recorded a really bad record of my songs. Now I don’t have a record with really bad songs on there. So thank you for that and thank you for this.”
Next up, Maren Morris made her second visit to the MusicRow winners’ circle. Last year, she was awarded the Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year. This year, she was presented with the Breakthrough Artist of the Year award.
“Thank you, MusicRow, for having me back,” she said. “I always thought of myself as a writer and not an artist. Thank you guys for believing in me when I didn’t even believe in myself.
“I’m working on my sophomore album, which is exciting, but as scary as shit.”
The penultimate award of this 29th annual MR ceremony was the presentation of the Song of the Year honor. Often a predictor of CMA and/or Grammy honors, the ballot this year was packed with deserving compositions – “Vice,” “Wanna Be That Song,” “Leaving Nashville,” “Kill a Word” and the winner, “Blue Ain’t Your Color.”
“Man, what a turnout,” said “Blue” cowriter Clint Lagerberg surveying the capacity crowd. “We [songwriters] don’t get to see this mountain-top a lot. But we get to see the valleys. So this is great.”
Lagerberg and cowriters Hillary Lindsey and Steven Lee Olsen then wowed the crowd with a beautifully rehearsed, outstanding, trio-harmony version of “Blue Ain’t Your Color.”
Appreciating the moment were Michael Knox, Michael Mason, Mike Sistad, Tim Wipperman, Tim Fink, Todd Cassetty, Ben Vaughn, Bev Moser, Susan Collier, Carla Wallace, Dale Dodson, Martha Moore, Edie Emery and Chris Keaton.
Servers circulated with pork, shrimp, ham, bacon and veggie bites on toast points, polenta and/or sweet-potato biscuits. Barry Coburn, Debbie Linn, Cindy Owen, Sherrill Blackmon, Earle Simmons, Erika Wollam Nichols, Dave Pomeroy, Dennis Banka, Don Cusic, Kerry O’Neill, Pat Higdon, John Beiter and Troy Stephenson worked the room.